Published Sep 07, 2018With her brilliant debut, Bekah Simms immediately positions herself at the vanguard of contemporary composers. The six wildly eclectic pieces that comprise Impurity Chains demonstrate a relentlessly creative compositional voice that gleefully cross-pollinates influences to add mutagenic growth potential to traditional ideas, and a sense of grounded history and sophistication to the experimental inclinations of fresh thinking.
This deeply textural sound journey begins with "Microlattice," a dynamic, menacing arrangement of guttural brass, stabbing piano, groaning upright bass, forlorn chimes and percussion that slithers, skitters and crashes like a serpent stalking prey through an antique store. It's as mesmerizing as it is terrifying, evoking the sense of a Joseph LoDuca score being slowly pulled apart by the insistent tides of entropy.
"Slept Unwell" is miles away sonically, a primarily a cappella piece comparable to Nico Muhly's choral work on Mothertongue. Its six minutes meticulously blends layers of subtle electronics with voices that gasp and wheeze, dragging and stretching syllables into a tapestry both beautiful and unnerving. "Swallow/Breathe" switches gears dramatically again, employing a string ensemble to create a vivid story told in instrumental phrases that describe furtive exploration and tentative uncertainty mixed with moments of temporary catharsis stained with apprehension and dread. One could easily imagine it scoring an elaborate scene from a stage play or film.
The album's centrepiece, "Granitic" is possible the greatest synthesis of Simms' sensibilities in a single musical statement on the album. Experimental guitar takes its place among the orchestra and has never sounded more perfectly integrated with avant-garde classical music. Contemporary drumming also enters the soundscape here, along with synth and keys, revealing more explicitly Simms' appreciation for jazz, metal, noise and progressive rock, along with her ability to seamlessly integrate those varied styles and tools in the service of building a distinct, fresh and exciting sonic identity.
At 11:31 and 15:21 minutes respectively, a lot of the album plays out in its final two tracks. Both are less immediate, longer simmering pieces, and again sound very little like anything that's come before on the album. "Everything Is...Distorted" uses mostly traditional orchestra instruments to quizzically flit around heavily processed squalls of sound. It calls to mind a pack of wild animals trying to figure out how to take down a refrigerator. Title track and album-ender, "Impurity Chains" is the most abstract offering on the collection, a long, slow meditation of plucked electric guitar notes that oscillate and reverberate, collecting sonic detritus like a dirty snowball as it rolls along to an increasingly muddy climax.
Brash and uncompromising, Impurity Chains is by no means an album for casual listeners, but anyone looking for a truly exciting, innovative and evolved take on contemporary composition should be utterly enthralled by the extraordinary vision presented here by Bekah Simms. (Centrediscs)